Thursday, January 5, 2017

New(ish) Releases: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016); Anomalisa (2016)

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Director: Richard Linklater

A well-done, amusing coming-of-age movie that is very much what you would expect from the man who brought us Dazed and Confused over two decades ago.

Like that previous movie, director Richard Linklater sticks with what he knows from personal experience. In this case, very personal experience, as the main character is a scholarshiped baseball player who is just starting his first days at a college in Texas in 1980 - just as Linklater did. The character that serves as his proxy here is Jake, who was a star pitcher at his high school but is now one of the freshman on the lowest end of the athletes' totem pole in college. A few days before classes are to begin, he shows up at the house set aside for the baseball team, where he meets his teammates and begins to try and form bonds with them. The team is made up of a somewhat ecclectic group of guys - smart, dumb, hippies. Nearly all are hilarious, intentionally or otherwise, and every single one is highly competitive. Jake is no exception, and he begins to try and find his place among this new group of teammates, roommates, and fellow students.

Anyone familiar with Linklater's movies such as Dazed and Confused, Slacker, or the "Before..." trilogy will be familiar with his very organic style. The characters, events, and dialogue all feel wonderfully natural. In this case, we see a bunch of college guys who are much like what you would expect - they are reveling at the freedom that crackles as they are just starting to become adults, without really having any of the responsibilities of adulthood. Without such responsibilities, they can concentrate on other areas of life such as chasing women, drinking beer, and constantly razzing each other. Basically, anyone who had a chance to hang out with age peers after high school probably knew people an awful like Jake's new teammates: the big brother types who will hector you into tears but teach you more useful things about life than you realize until many years later.

While the movie can certainly be classified as a "dude flick,"
my wife enjoyed it. A scene like this one - with a bunch of
college students sitting around, getting high and debating
the profundity of Pink Floyd, set off fond memories of
her college days.
The authenticity of the characters is film's strongest asset, but it really shows no weaknesses. The dialogue is, as typical of Linklater movies, lively and funny. And when a line itself isn't particularly hilarious, the actors sell it by comletely throwing themselves into their goofy characters. The only one who perhaps overdoes it is Juston Street as Niles, a self-important hot-head from Detroit. Whether it was Linklater's direction or Street's choice, but he played hte Niles character too cartoonishly psychotic for my liking. Otherwise, it's simply fun to follow the team around and see them interact in mostly casual ways. While the primary cast is composed of about a dozen of the baseball team, it all circulates around Jake taking his first steps into adulthood through this group. It actually makes a solid follow-up film to Dazed and Confused. That earlier Linklater movie is a vaster panoramic of 1976 high school kids seen mostly through the eyes of Mitch - high school freshman on his final day of junior high school. As Mitch also plays baseball, it's not hard to make the leap to his being a sort of Jake, four years earlier. These movies are obviously autobiographical, and that personal connection of Linklater's makes them all the better.

Just like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! has the magic of nostalgia working for it. Blessedly, it never leans too heavily on it for its entertainment value. I will say that my wife, who has a very keen ear for authentic dialogue, especially from the early 1980s, gives this one her seal of approval. And yes, there are plenty of short shorts, porno mustaches, and all manner of questionable hairstyles. But they are never overdone, and they never take away from the interactions between the characters. This was a solid movie that any person should enjoy, whether you were part of the times or not. If this movie had come out back in the early '90s, when I was still in high school and playing baseball, it probably would have become an obsession.

Anomalisa (2016)

Director: Charlie Kaufmann

A highly unique film, to be sure, and one with writer/director Charlie Kaufman's highly creative and delicate sensibilities all over it. I must say, though, that I was expecting to feel a greater impact.

The movie is about Michael Stone, a highly respected and successful writer and lecturer on customer service. Michael goes to a conference in Cincinatti, where he will be giving a lecture to an audience of hundreds of people in the customer service industry. Michael's personal and psychological life is in shambles, though. To him, every adult in the world has exactly the same face and exactly the same voice. Literally. Aside from their clothing and hair styles, Michael does not see any distinguishing features between other people. He feels a deep disconnetion from everyone, including his own wife and son. This changes at his hotel in Cincinatti, where he meets Lisa - a customer service representative from northern Ohio. Lisa seems to be a rather common person, but Michael sees her face and hears her voice as unique among the sea of repetition of other people. Michael seduces and sleeps with Lisa, seemingly falling in love with her and even stating that he will leave his wife and son to be with her. No sooner does he make this pledge, though, than Lisa's face and voice steadily morph into the same visage and sound that he sees and hears from everyone else.

Anomalisa is a very heartfelt and curiously intimate look at a person who is completely fractured, psychologically. Michael Stone has all but completely lost his connection to the rest of humanity and much of his grip on his own sanity. The former is conveyed through the endless fascimiles of faces and voices that he perceives, while the latter is shown through a few bizarre hallucinations, very narcissistic dreams which he has, and a near-complete meltdown on stage while he's delivering his lecture at the conference. Much of this is as awkward as you might imagine, which is something that writer Charlie Kaufman has used to great effect in other films such as Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. But while those other movies maintain a solid line of humor through much of the proceedings, Anomalisa is mostly somber and upsetting. This is as it should be, as this is a far more probing look at a tragically disassociated person.

Michael (left), charming a couple of admirers. Lisa (right)
catches Michael's eye and becomes the sole focus of his
desires for a time.
The use of marionettes might seem like a very odd choice, but it does work for this tale. It allows for certain visuals that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, with a live cast. Not to mention that it leaves a far more lasting impression, as I can't think of a single other mostly serious drama that has used such an approach.

This is one of those films that is clearly brilliant, though it is one which I doubt I will watch again. It's a unique study of extremely personal and human frailties.